Putin’s war in Ukraine does not deter Hungary from Orban and Trumpism

Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Sunday celebrated his victory for a fourth four-year term by exulting that his victory “was so big you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels” at home to the European Union – or from Washington, Kyiv and Moscow, by the way.

It is clear that Orbán feels armored against anything Brussels or even Washington can come up with.

Of all the leaders of the 27 EU members, Hungary’s populist leader is by far the friendliest Relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even during the worst war in Ukraine. Still, he stuck to his job, which looks like an almost unassailable man two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly. A coalition of six different parties could not get more than a third of the votes. Even their standard-bearer, the telegenic Péter Márki-Zay, the mayor of the city where he was up for election on Sunday, was defeated by a seat by an Orbán loyalist in parliament.

How is all this possible after horrific images like those coming from Ukraine along with the fast 400,000 Ukrainian refugees stream over the 80-plus-mile limit Hungary shares with Ukraine? There are several reasons for Orbán’s victory – all of which should be quite chilling for the EU and Washington as they consider how to deal with this latest challenge to the heart of Western democracy.

First, Orbán, like his idol Putin, has been anything but unassailable Control over the country’s media — Print, radio, television. This has helped him distort the portrayal of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and emphasize that his country’s ties to the Kremlin are all that’s stopping the country from doing so be drawn into the conflict.

Image: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán greets supporters after announcing partial results of the general election in Budapest on April 3, 2022.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pays tribute to supporters after the announcement of partial results in the parliamentary elections on April 3, 2022 in Budapest.Janos Kummer / Getty Images

However, Orbán’s influence cannot be fully explained by his dominance of the media or his manipulation of political levers. Until the pandemic hit, Hungary was enjoying one of the fastest Economic growth rates in Europe, while unemployment fell dramatically under the umbrella of low corporate tax rates. Migrants who may have hijacked jobs from Hungary have been kept in check as part of the process high Christian values whose defender calls himself Orbán and which appeals to many Hungarians, especially in the countryside, where Orbán draws a lot of strength.

And while Hungary has a long history of antagonism with Russia, stemming from the Hungarian Revolution crushed by Russian tanks in 1956, the legacy of Soviet-installed leader János Kádár also remains. He promptly introduced “Goulash Communism‘, meaning ‘don’t question the basic tenets of the Kremlin’s power, and you can live quite comfortably.’ As I’ve seen from my days as a reporter on Moscow’s ‘satellites’, Hungary effectively became the freest and most prosperous Orbán hugged this reminder to make his relations with Putin politically palatable.

The result for the West is that it will continue to be forced to deal with a nation that does refused passage of military goods or equipment across Hungary to Ukraine or to participate in oil and gas sanctions against the Kremlin. Hungary enjoys prices a fifth of those in the rest of Europe under a long-term contract Putin and Orbán boasted for example during a visit to the Kremlin in February, an economic advantage that Orbán does not want to sacrifice for his voters. Although in a pre-vote I nod to all moderates in the electorate, Hungary said it would not veto it against other EU sanctions against Russia.


Orbán has long been an outsider in Europe. In 2015, as the rest of Europe banded together to absorb a wave of Middle Eastern immigrants as Syria fell apart, Orbán opted instead to build a wall that prevented anyone from entering Hungary — $106 million , 13 foot high chain link fence topped by rows of barbed wire stretching the length of the 110-mile border separating Hungary from neighboring Serbia. It was as firm a statement as possible that Orbán would differentiate himself from the rest of Europe.

In Serbia itself, pro-Kremlin populist strongman Aleksandar Vučić also won Sunday’s election, leaving the two to form a unique and damaging bloc in south-eastern Europe. Hungary is increasingly withdrawing from the NATO spirit, even if it remains part of the alliance in name. And Serbia had aspired to EU membershipbut its offering has faltered as it moves increasingly away from the European mainstream.

The first words Orbán spoke as he basked in the glow of overwhelming victory were Attacks on all his opponents at home and abroad. He even attacked the West’s darling, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called Orbán’s government “a Russian branch in Europe.”

It is clear that Orbán feels armored against anything Brussels or even Washington can come up with. He’s already survived one Article 7 vote in the European Parliament ‘blaming’ Hungary for not respecting the fundamental values ​​of the EU. As a result, the EU recently announced that it would freeze some subsidies to the country.

The bigger problem with Orbán’s victory is the divisions he shows are alive and well in Europe. While the invasion of Ukraine resulted in a unified and swift stance on Russia unprecedented since the Cold War, Orbán’s victory shows that it is not enough for all of Europe to reject authoritarian-leaning leaders.

So there are potentially more problems for a number of countries that have their own populist right-wing political forces. French voters will go to the polls on Sunday in the first round of the presidential election with two right-wing candidates, Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, challenging incumbent Emmanuel Macron, whose Lead has narrowed in the last days.

In Italy, Orbán continues to maintain close ties with Matteo Salvini the far-right Italian league. Orbán has also cultivated Relationships with some sympathetic Americans, including Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. The TV presenter even flew to Hungary to support the prime minister last summer (although he lost some credibility when he incorrectly referred to Fox News Neighbor Serbia than Slovakiamuch to the amusement of the Hungarian media).

Fissures in Europe remain – and threaten to widen – as authoritarian leaders supported, or at least inspired, by Putin have not been daunted by how badly his war is going or by the newfound resolve of European democracies. Perhaps the best strategy for the West is simply containment. Even if funding freezes do not guarantee change, moves like these send a strong message that authoritarianism will be quarantined where it has a foothold, while the dangers of spread are made plain to voters in what is left of the democratic West. Then the hold on power of these leaders, isolated and fragmented, may begin to rot from the roots. Putin’s war in Ukraine does not deter Hungary from Orban and Trumpism

Caroline Bleakley

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